Mexico girl comes close to hoops title

In a national free throw competition that started out with more than three million participants last fall, Karen Baker did herself (and Mexico, Mo.) proud.
Baker, a Mexico Middle School seventh grader, completed a journey last Saturday many other youths from across the nation started but only a handful went the distance. She took second place in the national Elks Hoop
Shoot  free throw contest held in Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball.
Competing in the Girls Age 12-13 Division against 11 other finalists at Western New England College after advancing through local, district, state and regional contests representing Mexico Elks Lodge 919, Baker made a finals-high 22 of 25 free throws, the same number as Autumn Whirley (from Indiana but representing Ohio).
In the ensuing tiebreaker, Whirley converted all five of her extra attempts to decide the issue, besting Baker who made three of five but still had lots to be proud of obviously for the first Mexicoan to advance so far.
“I was nervous from the begining, but I didn’t let it stress me out,” Baker said. “I was excited just to be at nationals.”
Baker, the 12-year-old daughter of Mexico’s Nancy and Andy Baker, spent the Friday night before exploring the Basketball Hall of Fame and “the girls loved that,” Karen’s mom said.
After breakfast Saturday, it was Karen’s turn to share the spotlight as part of 36 girls and 36 boys who would be busy trying to keep their hoops hopes alive over the next 3 1/2 hours or so.
The No. 2 shooter in her age group, Karen made eight of 10 attempts in the first round. When it came time for her round of 15 shots, she nailed 14 straight before missing the last one.
Tied with identical totals, Baker and Whirley faced off in the Elks version of overtime. The outcome didn’t go the way this writer would have liked to type it, but the entire experience still was pretty neat.
“I’m not sure she has come down off Cloud Nine yet,” Nancy Baker told family and friends Monday, less than 24 hours after their return.
Competition was followed by an awards presentation immediately after, but trophies were not presented until the banquet that night. Giving the Show-Me State yet another reason to stand up and cheer, Tonya Mirtz (head girls basketball coach at Hickman High School in Columbia) was the guest speaker. Mirtz was the top female shooter in the 1981 Elks competition.
Since its inception 36 years ago, the Elks Hoop Shoot has seen more than 101 million participants, starting at the local level, making it the largest coeducational youth sports program in the nation. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a patriotic and philanthropic fraternal organization with nearly 1.2 million members in more than 2,100 communities.
“I enjoyed going to the Hall of Fame, talking with other shooters and getting a huge second-place trophy,” Baker said. “I plan on doing the Hoop Shoot again next year; I’ve already started practicing in hopes of reaching nationals again.”